« PreviousContinue »
none to lead their worship, save, perhaps, a newly converted priest of Oro, or a professional dancer, hitherto sunk in every form of vice,—we can the better understand the extreme anxiety of the people to possess the books which were the storehouses of excellent knowledge. Have you ever realised the innumerable difficulties under which these early publishers had to contend? To begin with, they had themselves to reduce barbarous and hitherto unknown tongues to a written language, no easy matter, considering that many of these dialects are so rich as to possess far more words to express shades of meaning than any European language." So, beginning with the alphabet, they had to work out equivalents for words in which the slightest change of accent conveys totally different meanings; then they had to puzzle out very intricate grammatical structures, and, having mastered all this, had to commence the very difficult work of translating so large a book as the Bible—a book, moreover, treating of spiritual truths which it was hard indeed to render comprehensible to such very materialistic minds as these. Yet in the short space of about thirty years, the Scriptures have been translated into about twenty different languages, all previously unknown; and there is not one group throughout Polynesia, the people of which do not now read the Scriptures in their own tongue. The same good work is now gradually extending through: out Melanesia also ; and even New Guinea, which, ten years ago, was an unknown land, has already received portions of the New Testament in the language spoken by at least one of its tribes. Considering the extremely volatile nature of these light-heartel people, the exceeding earnestness with which they seem to have entered into the requirements of a spiritual religion, is very remarkable. They had, however, been early trained to a belief in the necessity of whole-hearted attention, and reverence in the worship of their idols. It mattered not how large and costly might be the offerings, and how careful the ceremonial, should the priest omit, or even misplace, any word in the appointed prayers, or should his attention be diverted, the prayer was ur
1 This is emphatically true of Fijian. See ‘At Home in Fiji, vol. i. p. 136.
PRE-CHRISTIAN OBSERVANCES. 309
availing; other victims must be brought, and the whole ceremony repeated from the beginning.
So, too, the rigid observance of the Jewish Sabbatical laws seemed a natural requirement to a people who, from their infancy, had been taught implicit obedience to the laws of tabu, or sacred seasons, when, at the bidding of priest or chief, no fire must be kindled, no canoe launched, and neither food nor drink might be tasted, under severest penalties. When, therefore, the early missionaries declared one day in seven to be strictly tabu, and themselves gave the example by abstaining from every sort of secular employment, even preparing their own food on the previous day (which was hence called the mahana maa, or food-day), the natives willingly obeyed, and proved themselves capable of such close and continuous attention to spiritual subjects as the majority of Christians nowadays would find wellnigh impossible.
So, too, with the custom of saying grace before eating, which is so strictly practised by all the converts in Polynesia. It was the more readily adopted because, in heathen days, no morsel might pass the lips of any member of the family till the chief person present had offered a portion to the gods, adding a few words of prayer for their protection and blessing. In some instances they chanted a form of thanksgiving for the good things received, as being the gift of the gods.
I have written this story of old days somewhat at length, from a conviction that it is probably almost unknown to you, and must surely prove interesting, though I am fully aware that it cannot be so to you in the same degree as it is to me, who have heard the story for the first time on the very spot where those terrible scenes were formerly enacted, and where the marvellous change was actually wrought.
A HEALING TREE-PLANTATION LIFE—VANILLA CROPS–CAT-AND-DOG LIFE —A FOILED ASSASSIN–THE TROPICS OF To-DAY-ENGLAND IN DAYS OF YORE—AMONG THE CRAGS-INFANTICiDE-HEATHEN DAYS.
Chez MADAME BRUN, PAPEroat,
Another long day in scenes of dream-like loveliness. Early as I always awaken, the little trio were astir before me, waiting in their bathing-dresses to escort me to the shore, dancing joyously as sunbeams, and most carefully pioneering my path through the shallow water, so as to avoid the very unpleasant chance of treading on sea-hedgehogs and other spiny creatures. There are so very few places in the isles where sea-bathing is altogether free from danger of sharks, that it is a luxury on which we rarely venture, and therefore appreciate it all the more. Immediately after early chocolate, a friendly gendarme lent me his horse (I had brought my own saddle), and, not without some cowardly qualms, I rode off alone in search of Madame Valles's plantation. The road lay along the shore—a lovely grass path, overshadowed by all manner of beautiful trees, of which the most conspicuous is here called the tamanu, an old acquaintance with a new name. In Fiji it is called ndelo. It is common not only throughout Polynesia but also in the East Indies, and in Mauritius." In all these lands this noble tree grows and flourishes, just above high-water mark, on what seems to us the most arid sandy shores, and outstretches its wide branches with their rich dark foliage, casting cool delicious shadows on the dazzling coral. sands, a boon to tired eyes, weary of the mid-day glare. It is a tree for the healing of the nations. Its large glossy leaves, when soaked in fresh water, are valuable in reducing inflammation of the eyes; and its round green fruit contains a small grey ball, within which lies a kernel, which yields about sixty pet * Calophyllum inophyllum.
SEED-STREWN SHORES. 311
cent of a green-coloured bitter oil, worth about £90 a ton in the Anglo-Indian market. It is an invaluable remedy as a liniment in all forms of rheumatism, rheumatic fever, bruises, stiffness, and similar ailments. Throughout the isles its virtues are fully recognised, but it is only prepared in small quantities for domestic use, and stored by prudent householders, in hollow gourds, which are the correct substitute for bottles. The labour of expressing the oil, by any hand process, is so great as to prevent an extensive manufacture; and I am not aware that any machinery for this purpose has found its way to the Pacific, though it does seem a pity that so valuable a product should be wasted, as it now is. Wherever we go, in any of these isles, the sea-beach is strewn with myriads of these, and other seeds, some of which, such as the gigantic climbing-bean," have been washed down by the mountain streams; while others, such as these grey balls, and the curious square-shaped seeds of the Barringtonia, in their outer case of nature-woven fibre, drop from the boughs which overhang the sea. The white blossom of the tamanu trees is both fragrant and ornamental, and many a pleasant hour have I spent on many a lovely isle, alone (save for the omnipresent army of hermit crabs) beneath the shade of these grand trees, beside the cool blue waters of the Pacific. I had no difficulty in finding Madame Valles's home—a lovely nest, perched high on the hillside, with a background of grey rockpinnacles and crags. The house is embowered in greenery, and from its verandahs you look through a frame of pure scarlet hybiscus to the bluest of lagoons, divided from the purply ocean beyond by the line of gleaming white breakers which bound the coral-reef. M. Valles is at present very unwell, and quite a prisoner, so double work falls to the lot of Madame Valles, who has to do most of her own cooking and house-work, milk her own cow, and attend with unwearied care to that most precarious of all crops, vanilla. So you see that even in Moorea plantation life is not luxurious, The great difficulty here is to obtain labour; and there is not one regular servant or labourer on this estate. Fifteen acres of coffee have all run wild, and grown into tall straggling bushes, from total lack of hands to tend it. As there is no one to gather the crop of ripe red coffee-cherries, they are left to drop, and the rats eat the soft fruit, leaving the beans untouched; so the family collect these, all ready pulped, and devoutly wish the rats were ten times as numerous. But the most precious crop here is vanilla, which is both pretty and lucrative, being worth about four dollars a pound. It is a luxuriant creeper, and grows so freely that a branch broken off and falling on the ground takes root of its own accord; and it climbs all over the tall coffee-shrubs, the palms, avocat pear and orange trees, and everything that comes in its way, growing best on living wood, the tendrils thence deriving sustenance. It also flourishes best in unweeded grounds, the roots being thereby kept cool. So the steep wooded hillside is densely matted with this fragrant spice, which scents the whole air-indeed the atmosphere of the house is redolent of vanilla. It is like living in a spice-box, as the pods are laid to dry in every available corner. They must be gathered unripe, and dried in a moist warm place; sometimes they are packed under layers of quilts to prevent them from bursting, and so losing their fragrant essence. All this sounds very pleasant, and only suggests light work, yet in truth this cultivation involves most exhausting toil. The plant is an exotic; it lives in these isles by the will of the planter, not by nature's law. In its native home exquisite humming-birds hover over its blossoms, therein darting their long bills in search of honey, and drawing them forth, clogged with the golden pollen, which they carry to the next flower, thus doing nature's work of fertilisation. Here the flowers have no such dainty wooers, and the vanilla bears no fruit unless fertilised by human hand. So M. and Madame Valles, and their son, divide the steep hillside into three sections, and each morning they patiently but wearily toil up and down, up and down, again, and again, and again, in order to manipulate each blossom that has expanded during the night. “Faire le mariage
1 Entada scandens.